Sweet treats from Johnny's Donuts delivered to advising courtesy of an MA student.

Share The Love & The Donuts

November 6, 2017

My stomach growls.

I see an elegant display case of at least 15 different types of doughnuts, all from afar looking reasonably sized. It’s not until they’re examined up close that is it noted that they’re about the size of one’s face.

And that’s how Johnny’s does it.  Despite it being nestled into the quainter part of San Rafael, this doughnut shop holds celebrity status to all in the greater Bay Area.

I pick up my phone, dial an arbitrary ‘415’ phone number, and sit in my swivel chair as I listen to the muffled ring. Fifteen seconds pass; I check to make sure I have service.

“Hello?” a young girl’s voice says. “Hold on one second,” she mumbles, and so I sit.

“Are you still there?” she exclaims.

“Yes, I am here. Is this Sarah?” I respond.

“Yes, hi Taitum!” she chirps, with an enthusiastic tone.

Sarah Mackenzie, the Operations Manager at Johnny’s Doughnuts, is the human embodiment of the ‘Sprinkle Guys!’ doughnut. Her bubbly personality and sugar-sweet enthusiasm is the doughnut, and her joy that she gets from her work represents the colorful and bright sprinkles that decorate it. Mackenzie’s exuberance is impressive considering her daily agenda: she works from dawn until dusk all over the greater Bay Area. “From the daily operations of the shop to hiring to scheduling… I oversee everything,” she concludes with a sincere chuckle.

Johnny’s unspoken motto, “Share the Love”, manifesting itself in latte art purchased at their San Rafael location.

A day at Johnny’s requires hard work and persistence to create the unparalleled sweetness of their doughnuts. And for Mackenzie, her respectable status at Johnny’s wasn’t rewarded overnight and was never intended to become something so meaningful in her life. “I just needed a part-time job to pay for, you know, ‘x, y, and z’,” she recalls. Her journey at Johnny’s began with her working as a doughnut enthusiast (that’s what they call their cashiers). “People come in and they’re so happy and so excited to see a full, giant case of these beautiful things, so that was always really fun to be around,” she shares. Even though it’s delivered over the phone, it’s impossible to miss her exuberant tone and zest for making sure people’s ‘cups’ runneth over with love.  

Mackenzie invites me into an elaborate story that highlights one of her best and most memorable days working at Johnny’s, which was a challenging feat to narrow down: “I remember I was working up front and I was totally by myself,” she remarks. Before the store expanded to its current size, only one person worked up front while all other employees worked in production. “All of a sudden we had a line out the door and we were literally pulling doughnuts out of the deep fryer and glazing them! I was just sitting there lining up these boxes, like a whole counter’s worth of boxes. I wasn’t stressed out; I was like, ‘this is going to be a lot of fun.’” Mackenzie’s ambition and spearheaded mentality are what keeps Johnny’s functioning in the fashion that it is today. Lining up a countertop with white boxes and parchment paper might discourage some in a job description, but Mackenzie views it as an opportunity to sign, seal, and deliver a gift that could brighten the cloudiest of days. “I was just so happy to give that to people,” and by ‘that’, she most certainly means happiness and joy.

Enjoying a Sprinkle Guys doughnut at the Larkspur Landing Farmer’s Market where a Johnny’s truck was present.

Mackenzie stresses that every day it’s Johnny’s purpose to ‘spread the love’, no matter the hiccups that might present themselves along the way, and despite their impossibly high success rate, no company is perfect. “Every day comes with things that are frustrating; yes there are successes to celebrate, but there are mistakes that we need to learn from every single day,” she says, explaining an occasion where a Johnny’s Doughnut cake and food truck was late to someone’s wedding. The devastation and disappointment in her voice was tangible through the phone: “Sometimes people only get married once, so we want to make sure that everything is perfect on those days,” Even in instances of imperfection and mistakes, Mackenzie expresses optimism — a true testament to her dedication to preserving Johnny’s unspoken mission of sharing the love.  

Before ending our conversation, I ask what is in a typical Johnny’s doughnut. Her reply is nothing short of unique. Coincidence? Not in the slightest. After all, that’s how Johnny’s does it.

“Mashed potatoes,” she states, debunking the mystery behind why the old-fashioned glazed desserts are so dense and delectable. “There’s also sour cream in there,” she adds with a light chuckle.

The phone call comes to a close at 5:59 pm and Mackenzie concludes with a supportive and thoughtful farewell: “If you’re ever around at Johnny’s, pop behind the counter and say hi,” she chirps, “I might be there and I would love to meet you in person.” Her positivity is contagious, and as we say goodbye, a smile grows across my face.

I sit there, at my dark wood desk, eagerly awaiting the next time that I will get to go to Johnny’s myself and share my own love for such a unique, heartwarming, and passionate business. It’s not about the size of the doughnut, the length of the line out the door and around the corner, or how fast the display case empties; it’s about the connections that the enthusiasts make with the customers, the lives that are lightened by the warm smiles behind the counter, and the love that is shared, mixed and baked in every unique doughnut.

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